The US Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for building and demonstrating a mobile microreactor.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the SCO published a notice of availability in the Federal Register, starting a 45-day public comment period on the draft EIS. Two public hearings will be held in Idaho and livestreamed online on 20 October. A final EIS and record of decision regarding potential construction and testing are expected in early 2022.
In March 2021, the SCO announced that it had narrowed the continued design of the mobile microreactor concepts to two firms that would proceed to final design - BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC in Lynchburg, Virginia; and X-energy LLC in Greenbelt, Maryland. The two teams were selected from a preliminary design competition, and each continues development independently under an SCO initiative called Project Pele. After a final design review in early 2022 and completion of environmental analysis under NEPA, one of the two companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.
The DOD uses around 30TWh of electricity a year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel a day - levels that are expected to increase due to anticipated electrification of the non-tactical vehicle fleet and maturation of future energy-intensive capabilities. DOD said a safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments. Project Pele is a fourth-generation nuclear reactor which, once prototyped, could serve as a pathfinder for commercial adoption of such technologies, according to DOD.
The prototype reactor will be designed to deliver 1-5MWe for at least three years of operation at full power. To enable rapid transport and use, it will be designed to operate within three days of delivery and can be safely removed in as few as seven days. Project Pele is a whole-of-government effort, with critical expertise provided by the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“Production of a full-scale fourth-generation nuclear reactor will have significant geopolitical implications for the United States,” said Jay Dryer, SCO Director. “The DOD has led American innovation many times in the past, and Project Pele offers a unique opportunity to advance both energy resilience and carbon emission reductions, while shaping improved safety and non-proliferation standards for advanced reactors around the world.”